September 29 2011
This is a response to Rory Stewart's book excerpt, "My uphill battle against the Afghanistan intervention."
Rory Stewart maintains that it is "not simply difficult, but impossible" to build an Afghan state. Presumably, this is meant hyperbolically, since Afghanistan has been recognized as an independent state far longer than any of its northern or southern neighbors.
It is true that the Afghan state had almost no capacity a decade ago, after twenty years of civil war, and that it still struggles to deliver basic public services. Nevertheless, nothing in Stewart's pessimistic assessment would lead one to realize that since 2001 Afghanistan's licit GDP has risen by 300 percent, that tax collection as a percentage of GDP now exceeds that of Pakistan, that school attendance has risen eightfold, that the country's literacy rate will triple in 10 years if these children are permitted to stay in school, that 80 percent of the population has access to basic health care faculties (albeit often distant and intermittent), that child mortality has dropped by one third as a result, and that despite the ongoing conflict longevity is increasing. Yet another striking statistic is that today almost half of Afghan households have telephones.